“Citizen Centric”: Residents Praise City of Tuscaloosa’s Award-Winning Communications Division Featured

The City of Tuscaloosa has won nine awards in the past year for its use of an online and social media presence.

“Our website and social media sites all reach different people in our community who come from different demographics and backgrounds,” said Deidre Stalnaker, Tuscaloosa’s Communications Director. “It is important for us to tailor what we say and do to the people we are reaching to meet them where they are and make communication easy.”

Her primary goal for Tuscaloosa’s communications is to be “citizen centric.” She said her job is to handle and direct all the city’s external media, including the website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Nextdoor (a new social networking site for neighborhoods). She said one reason Tuscaloosa has won several awards is they tailor all communication depending on the audience.

Sara Beth Bolin, a journalism student at The University of Alabama, said that one of the reasons she follows Tuscaloosa’s Twitter is because it is targeted and tailored towards her generation.

“I started following the Twitter for a class project years ago, but I never unfollowed them,” Bolin said. “They put lots of really cool events on their Twitter I would not know about otherwise. For example, I found out about the Fourth of July fireworks, and they used their Twitter to keep me and many others updated about the weather conditions leading up to the event.”

Bolin said the city does a good job of including all the necessary information on their Twitter account, a fact that makes Stalnaker proud.

“A lot of communications advice says to make everything link back to your organization website to get more hits,” Stalnaker said. “We don’t care about hits; we care about getting our citizens the information they need and want as quickly as possible.”

Chandra Clark, a journalism and creative media professor at UA, said Stalnaker’s goal of making it as easy as possible for citizens to be informed is crucial, especially in today’s digital age.

“People are walking around with a mobile device that can access the world,” Clark said. “Governments need to take advantage of that and reach people where they are.”

Clark also said the City of Tuscaloosa is good at being transparent with its citizens, and she contributes that to the growth the city has experienced since the 2011 tornado. She said this was the city’s “one change to start over and grow the right way” – and that they took advantage of it.

Bolin agreed, and is thankful Tuscaloosa works hard to be open with its residents, though she said the city is not solely responsible to keep people informed.

“Constituents have a job to know what is going on, and the city cannot do that for them,” Bolin said.

The city’s most recent award was a Third Place Government Experience Award from the Center for Digital Government. Stalnaker said it was Tuscaloosa’s most prestigious award to date because they competed against much larger cities.

According to the organization’s website, the award went to cities that “have gone to the web and beyond to radically improve the experience of government and push the boundaries of how citizen services are delivered.”

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Druid City Living (DCL) is Tuscaloosa, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.



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